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World War 2 in Medbourne

The following are the memories of two ‘Golden Oldies’ who were born in Medbourne and grew up during World War II.  They are still around today.

I was on holiday with my parents at Great Yarmouth on September 3rd, 1939.  We were put on a train and sent back to Ashley and Weston station.  I did not go to the seaside again for six years.

In the village the street lights were turned off, the bells stopped ringing, all households had to make black-out curtains.  Everyone got a Ration Book.  All food except bread and milk was rationed.  We all got a gas mask which we took to school every day. Once a week we had to wear them in class which was not very pleasant!

Soon the evacuees arrived from London.  There were over fifty of them, together with their school teachers.  They knew everything – we didn’t like them, but we soon became friends.  Extra classrooms had to be provided upstairs in the Nevill Arms.  At that time there were seven houses in the village with live-in housemaids.  They didn’t take in any evacuees.  Soon Mrs. Speller, who was born in the village, returned with her family from London.  They are still here today.  Very quickly all school paper was used up.  Thereafter all school work was done using a slate and crayon.

Mr Barlow, the blacksmith, was the air-raid warden.  During possible raids he would ride around the village on his bike blowing a whistle.  We all had to hide under the stairs.

All fit men and women had to register for active service.  The girls had a choice of the forces, munitions or the Land Army.  Twelve men and six women went on active service.

The Home Guard was formed by veterans of the village.  Dad’s Army had nothing on this lot!  When the rifles arrived rabbits became the enemy.  A rabbit sold for five old pennies, the same price as a pint of beer!

When Coventry was bombed the sky towards Harborough was red all night.

There were seven farmers in the village, no shortage of milk, straight from the cow.  Every day a different shade of white!
On school days everyone got a third of a pint of milk from Holly Farm, including ‘Snooks’ the school cat.

One afternoon a Wellington Bomber just missed the village and crash landed down the Ashley Road. We were there before the policeman and were given a souvenir by the aircrew.

Mr Hulland, the farmer on Pasturers Road, now Uppingham Road, delivered milk daily with his horse (Bob) and float using churn and bucket.  His cows spent most of the day grazing the roadside which was little more than a lane.  No one went to Uppingham.
No playing field so all ball games were played in the street.

No playing field so all ball games were played in the street.

In the village there was a butchers shop together with a slaughter house.  The Co-Op stores, the Post Office store and Miss Goodburn’s shop.  There were also two bake houses, a garage with a petrol pump, bus service to Harborough and a taxi.  There was also a cobbler, a bespoke shoe maker, a carpenter – undertaker, a green grocer and a newsagent. Everyone had a daily paper delivered.  No Sainsbury’s and no such thing as toilet rolls!   There were only three private phones in the village, plus the callbox, and just four private cars.

The Rector, the Reverend Rice, had one service a week.

There was a road man, Mr G Faulks, who kept the village clean and tidy including the footpath down to Ashley Station.

One afternoon most people saw a Flying Fortress explode in mid air and fall in pieces.  It crashed near Stoke Albany.  No survivors.  Seventy years on we met the daughter of the pilot.

Once a month the district nurse came to school and checked the teachers and pupils for head lice.  During those years we all caught whooping cough, measles, chickenpox, impetigo and scabies.  Ringworm was also common.  However we all survived! Nurse Carter, who lived on Drayton Road, was the District Nurse and Midwife.  She would ride around on her bike in uniform, taking care of everyone’s ‘Medical Needs’.

Luxury Pullman railway carriages were stored on the railway line between the old Medbourne station and Hallaton junction.  No locks on the doors.  They were a perfect playground in bad weather.  No vandalism – it wasn’t invented.

A farmer’s son, Joe Ward, joined the RAF and became a Mosquito pilot.  He would often fly up the valley below the treetops frightening everyone!  He would then give us a display before dropping a parcel for his parents behind Manor Farm.

There was no mains water in the village.  Everyone had a well with a pump in the garden for drinking.  All rainwater was collected for washing.  In hot summers the wells often ran dry and water became scarce, although the drinking water springs on Main Street and Kennel Lane (Manor Road) were always maintained.  There was no water in the school.  Just the pump and bucket in the yard.  We never washed our hands before or after anything!

Saturday night was bath night.  A tin bath in front of the fire.  Youngest first, oldest last, all the same water then straight to bed.

Electricity in the village was just for lighting.  Some houses were still lit by oil lamps and candles including the church and chapel.  No such thing as cookers, fridges, washing machines etc.  Very few homes had a wireless (radio).  They were used very sparingly and were powered by a glass accumulator which was recharged every week at the Garage for tuppence.  There was no central heating.  Just one room was heated by a coal fire with a side oven for cooking.  On cold winter nights we would take the oven shelf to bed.  To this day we still have chilblains!

In early spring Mr Clarke, the farm foreman, would collect the older boys after school and go down to the station.  They would wait for a train loaded with young beef cattle imported from Ireland.  Once unloaded it was the boys’ job to keep the animals out of the river.  They then had to take individual lots to different fields.  Everyone got a shilling (24 sticks of liquorice from Miss Goodburn’s.)  All the boys knew the names of every field around the village.

Everyone kept hens.  All lawns and flowerbeds were dug up to grow vegetables.  People with a shed kept a pig.  Mr Warner, the butcher, would go round to slaughter these animals and we all went to watch! Pigs were only killed when there was an R in the month.

We were all surprised when several Italian prisoners of war arrived in the village.  They were billeted in two empty cottages on School Row and were put to work on farms.  They used to collect the blood from the slaughter house to make ‘black pudding’ which they bartered for tobacco etc.  We still eat black pudding today!

On cold days we would pump water from the well for Mr Smith, the Co-Op baker.  We were always given a hot loaf and a lump of margarine.

Other times we would pump the bellows for Mr. Barlow, the blacksmith, as he made horse shoes.  Sparks would fly everywhere – no Health and Safety – we just turned our backs.

In spring we looked for moorhens eggs up the brook.

In summer there were wild strawberries on the Batters, now Little Oaks.  On hot days we would go ‘skinny dipping’ in the river below Holt Yard, no girls allowed!  We ate no end of cherries, picked from the trees in Cherry Lane.

Older boys left out fishing lines in the brook at night to catch eels.  There were plenty of eels as some of the blood from the slaughter house went down the brook.  Eels could be sold for five old pennies each.

In autumn blackberries, apples and mushrooms were everywhere.  We also picked rose hips to make syrup.

When tractors arrived in the village much of the valley was ploughed up by the Land Girls.  It looks much the same today.  Main crops were wheat, potatoes and sugar beet which were taken to the station and loaded by hand – but not all of it!
When the Americans arrived the roads became dangerous.  Jeeps and lorries were always going through the village.  On summer evenings they came to the pubs, singing to the piano in the Horse and Trumpet.  The windows were always open with crowds outside. The bowling green, which was open on weekday evenings, became a big attraction to visitors. 

The airborne division practiced parachute drops from dozens of planes aiming at a field near Slawston.  We all went to watch.  One day they all disappeared.  It must have been D Day.

One day the whole village formed a queue and we were each given an orange!

Mr Gupwell, the village postman, always  delivered the mail before school.  During the war, for six old pennies, we would take a telegram to Holt School, always reading it on the way!

Weeks before VE Day everyone started to build a large bonfire up ‘Tin Pot Alley’, now Old Holt Road. On May 8th the bells were rung, the lights turned on, the fire was lit and a big party was held in the Village Hall, which was used for dances etc. throughout the war.

All young boys and girls were protected from the horrors of war.  However, three of our service men did not return.  It is because of them that we are here today.

You may think we are going through hard times right now, but way back we went through ‘lockdown’ for six years.


With grateful thanks to Val and Dave Tyler, long-term Medbourne residents. Contributed in May 2020 this was to have been read at the Village's VE Day 75th anniversary celebrations which were postponed owing to the lockdown during the Coronavirus pandemic.